CHAMPIONING THE CAUSE OF INDIAN SCIENTIFIC HERITAGE – Interview with Dr Gopalakrishnan

published on May 26, 2013


Dr.N.Goplakrishnan’s life mission has been to champion the cause of India’s scientific tradition. The Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage (IISH) which he founded in the year 1999 is active in 35 countries across the globe and so far he had addressed about 10000 lectures.  The lectures are held mostly held in India, USA, UK,Canada and in the countries of the Middle East.  All these years, he had been making people aware of the glorious Indian scientific and technological heritage. He candidly says, “Scientific concepts are ingrained not only in our vast literature, but even in our customs and rituals but we are not aware of it.”

Born on 20th November, 1955, he had an array of degrees to his credit. He has M.Sc degrees in Pharmacy and Chemistry, M.A.in Industrial Sociology, Degree in Journalismand Ph.D.in Biochemistry. In the year 2002 he has been awarded D.Lit (2002) by the Sanskrit University of Tirupathi for his outstanding contributions to the study of the scientific heritage of India.  He was a Senior Scientist of CSIR He is the recipient of the D.V. Memorial Award (1985 and 1993), Gardeners Award (1988), Dhingra Memorial Award for out standing contributions in the field of scientific research. He has been awarded the first NCSTC award for the popularization of science by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India in1988.  He is also the recipient of the prestigious Canadian International   Development Agency (CIDA) Fellowship of the Government of Canada in 1993 and has been a visiting scientist in the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.  He has visited many universities in USA,Canada and many middle east countries for delivering lectures. He has six patents and fifty research papers in the scientific studies to his credit. He has also authored 41 books relating to scientific and cultural subjects and has authored many articles on Indian Scientific Heritage.

Dr. Gopalakrishnan got the urge to study Indian scientific tradition through several people.  Initially kindled by his father and then when he listened to a Sanskrit scholar explaining the meaning of Vedas, he decided to study in depth the Vedas to know more about it.  Late P. Madhavji, a pracharak of RSS has always been a source of inspiration to him.


Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Pradeep Krishnan:

1.    Our text books, school and college level, talk about Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Pythagorus, Galileo, etc, but they don’t tell you anything about Yajnavalkya, Panini, Pathanjali, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, etc.  Your comments?

Unfortunately the people as well as the representatives of the people of India are ignorant of our glorious culture and heritage.  They did not know the contribution of all those great Indian scientists you had mentioned.  When scholars and intellectuals start learning and teach about our scientific heritage, then only policy makers think about it.  Nowadays, world over Yoga, Meditation and chanting mantras are being taught in schools and colleges because of realizing its benefits.  When people at large start demanding, naturally that will become part of syllabus.  So our aim is to make the people aware of India’s glorious scientific past.

2.    India had a glorious scientific past.  But what is the point in simply basking in past glory? How that is going to help us in the present fast changing technologically advanced world?

Our aim is to make the students, teachers and the academicians proud of their rich scientific tradition.  We have to openly tell the world that we were the discoverers/inventors of many scientific theories which today are credited as Western contribution.  For example the Pythagoras theorem, Area of Circle, Trigonometry, Calculus, Integration, Differentiation, etc were discovered by Indians and not by Copernicus, Galileo, Magallan, and Pythagoras.  Our Ayurveda, Yoga, Mathematics, Metallurgy, Physics, Ceramic and Glass technology can be adopted to suit the modern needs with modification/correction. As such our knowledge is not at all obsolete.

3.    The rapid technological advancement of the world owes its origin to the Industrial revolution, which started in Europe.  What could be the reasons for Bharath loosing its technological advancement and know-how, which we once had?

Foreign invasions and its resultant oppression were the causes of the decay of Indian science.  Whoever came and ruled India, deliberately suppressed our indigenous knowledge with a view to enforce their supremacy and to declare that Indians were primitive and underdeveloped.  The English who ruled India for about 200 years brainwashed our mind and thought process in such a way that we never tried to understand our own achievements.  In fact, several historians now admit that the Industrial revolution of the West is the result of looting the wealth of India.  

4.    Indian heritage and tradition is said to be spiritual. Its main concept is to ‘look within’ to realize the self or know who you are.  Were the too much emphasis on inner quest resulted in retarding the progress in science and technology?

We did both internal and external research to understand ‘existence’.  While the experiments done in the internal lab proved to be permanent, those done on the externals continuously changed.  Our heritage was not only spiritual but was also material.  Agriculture, Ayurveda, Yoga, Natya Sastra, Kamasutra, even our traditional cookery, traditional music, etc testify that ours was deeply rooted in all activities.  We considered the entire Universe as expression of our own self and hence everything that we developed was holistic. Moreover, in ancient India there never had a conflict or quarrel between  scientists of the inner  and outer world.

5.    You often say that our Rishis were scientists par excellence.  Could you please elaborate?

Charaka, Vagbhata, Varahamihira, Chanakya, Bharadwaja, Kapila, etc were true scientists.  Now all over the world serious researches are being carried out on Ayurveda, Yoga, Arthasasthra Music etc, which wre contribution of these scientists.  It is not to simply to eulogize them but to make their contribution suitable to the modern times.

6.    There is a section who say that all the modern technological advancement the world have today, the airplane, knowledge of atom, test tube babe, etc were already finds mention in the Vedas/our ancient texts. Do you support such a view?

I don’t advocate that. It’s true that we were pioneers in several fields of science such as Astronomy, Mettallurgy, Mathematics, Atomic research etc.  But it cannot be said that all modern scientific discoveries were already there during the ancient times.

7.    World over it is now recognized that ancient India gave the world many a legacy in mathematics, medicine, natural sciences, metallurgy, etc.  Had our civilization/culture was so superior, how we lost it?  What could be the causes for loosing the traditions continuity?

Any knowledge, if it is not used for a long time would become extinct.  In fact the entire scientific knowledge of India had been imparted in the Sanskrit language, which was not the language of the masses.  Moreover, when the focus of the entire society had shifted to fighting the foreign invaders, nothing new could emerge.  Meanwhile, the foreign invaders, without realizing the valuable treasure we had, deliberately destroyed our educational institutions and libraries.  Since all the scientific ideas were written in Sanskrit language, in course of time when the study of Sanskrit was discouraged, the great ideas were lost.  Ultimately when the invaders came, the focus shifted to fighting as rulers could not spend money and time on scientific research.  

8.    Vedic science is often criticized describing it as archaic, mystical and unverifiable. Your opinion?

We are yet to discover the full meaning and content of the Vedas.  I am of the view that science is hidden in it and one has to go very deep into the Vedas to discover the hidden science in the Vedas.  

9.    In spite of our glorious scientific traditions, Hindus by and large follow countless superstitions, lifeless customs and rituals and believe in miracles.  Why this paradox?

Knowledge in the hands of ignorant people will always get distorted. That is not the problem of the knowledge but of the people who are using it.  Knowledge in the hands of wrong people is likely to be misinterpreted.  Anything that is irrational and unscientific has to be questioned.  

10.    Unlike other religions, Hinduism, being not a religion in the strict sense as we consider Islam and Christianity, never persecuted scientists for exploring the universe.  But majority of followers of santhanadharma are highly superstitious in their daily life.  What are your explanations?

Unlike Christianity and Islam, Hinduism never persecuted scientists.  In fact, our rishis have always encouraged exploring the Universe.  Several beliefs of Hindus, such as worshipping Tulsi, lighting a lamp, etc. are not superstitions.   While our spirituality encouraged one to look within to understand the nuances of ones own mind, it never discouraged exploring the wonderful Universe.  Still I hold the view that we have to discard superstitious practices.

11.    You have done tremendous work to delve into the history and tradition of Indian science.  But there are skeptics who ask what good can be achieved by this? It is in the remote past and today’s Indian science is grossly behind the times.  How would you respond?

We have to make use of our traditional knowledge to suit the needs of the modern society.  Is not Ayurveda, Holistic Medicine, Naturopathy, Yoga, etc required for the modern man? Whatever good is available has to be processed and made useful to suit the modern times.  We should have an integral approach to such ideas.

12.    In India when one talks about our glorious scientific heritage and discoveries our rishis made, it is dubbed as ‘reactionary,’ ‘fundamentalist’ etc.  Your comments?

It’s quite unfortunate.  But my experience has been that if one can scientifically explain the facts/details to people, they will definitely approve it.  We have to find out different areas where we can successfully implement our traditional knowledge.  First we have to educate the people the values enshrined in our tradition and once we get popular support, no one can ignore it.  Surprisingly, I am getting support even from Christians and Muslims.

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